Next Avenue Logo

Workplace Caregiving: One Size Does Not Fit All

New reports shed light on what family caregivers need from employers

By Sherri Snelling

For 15 years, Wendy Perry, 64, juggled her job as IT manager for a private K-12 school in San Juan Capistrano, California, while also caring for her mother, who passed away last year at age 101. Without a break, Perry is now stepping into her second tour of duty as a caregiver, this time for her mother-in-law.

An hourly worker who is also a caregiver working the checkout line at a grocery store. Next Avenue, workplace caregiving benefits
"Over the last two decades, studies about caregiver support in the workplace have identified benefits that can be used for older parents and other dependents. But many of these studies did not consider the needs of hourly workers,"  |  Credit: Getty

Perry is not alone. She is one of 23 million people caring for older loved ones while also working full or part-time. That is about one in every six employees, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving, a nonprofit coalition that advocates for workplace policies and practices that make life easier for unpaid caregivers.

While some employers offer in-office, remote or hybrid work options, reports show 59% of the entire labor force — approximately 90 million workers — are hourly workers who lack such options. Women and people of color comprise most of the workers without flexible schedules, and several reports found they were the largest groups leaving the workplace during the pandemic due to caregiving responsibilities at home.

Convening an Innovation Lab

The challenges for hourly employees who are also caregiving was the focus of the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving's (RCI) inaugural Innovation Lab, which focused on improving job flexibility at five small- to mid-sized employers in southeast Michigan. Outcomes and lessons learned have been published in a companion report, "Working While Caring."

The Innovation Lab brought together small and mid-sized employers from for-profit and nonprofit sectors in southeast Michigan, each of which had many hourly workers in jobs requiring them to be on-site. The goal of the Innovation Lab was to collaborate on caregiving issues in the workforce and outline a plan of innovative solutions.

"If offering a senior care benefit helps just five employees who are caregiving stay on the job, it will save the company $200,000 related to the costs of replacing that employee."

Over the last two decades, studies about caregiver support in the workplace have identified benefits such as: paid family leave, flex time, support groups, remote work and health savings accounts that can be used for older parents and other dependents. But many of these studies did not consider the needs of hourly workers, such as helping to connect to local resources, that vary widely among urban, suburban and rural communities.

RCI  convened its Innovation Lab to consider solutions to these policy gaps. For instance, Employee Assistance Programs — services that offer employees professional help with personal problems — traditionally focused on behavioral programs (such as smoking cessation and weight management). They have provided little more than access to service representatives who can describe caregiving benefits and support services.

The Innovation Lab wants to go further, recommending specialized caregiving concierge services that include family care counseling, communication skills training and psychosocial cognitive behavioral therapy for caregivers. It also says companies need to focus on more employee education on how to manage caregiver stress, costs of care and how to navigate Medicare and Medicaid.

The Innovation Lab wants employers to ensure managers and supervisors are trained on the caregiving benefits their company offers and on communication skills to explain the benefits to employees. Most importantly, hourly workers should have access to a personalized assessment and care plan, especially for people with loved ones with dementia or mental illness.

More Laboratories Planned

The Rosalynn Carter Institute, which is based in Americus, Georgia, hopes to launch additional Innovation Labs in Atlanta and other cities.

"What is exciting about our first Innovation Lab is we are going to move the needle and not just check the box on what employers can do to help caregivers in the workplace," said Jennifer Olsen, CEO of RCI. "Over the next couple of years, the Michigan Innovation Lab will engage a Care Navigator service to help employees manage the costs, resources and programs available to help them balance work and caregiving."

Creating a care culture was the core aim of one of the Innovation Lab participants, the Michigan chapter of Volunteers of America, which provides affordable housing for low socioeconomic individuals, supports veterans with housing and other programs and runs retail thrift stores to raise funds for the programs.

"The first step was eliminating the stigma of not being able to talk about caregiving at work," said Aubrey Macfarlane, president and CEO of VOA, Michigan, who recently moved to Michigan to be closer to her older parents. "We erased all preconceived ideas of what would help our employees then we listened to them and took a bottoms-up and top-down approach so we could determine where to invest our support."

Benefits and the Bottom Line

The RCI report comes at a time when employers are realizing there is no-one-size-fits-all when it comes to benefits for caregiving employees but also that retaining these employees is crucial to the corporate bottom line. U.S. businesses lose an estimated $44 billion annually on recruiting, retaining and realizing employee productivity loss for those caring for older loved ones. In addition, the Urban Institute found individual caregivers who take a leave of absence from work can lose lifetime earnings on average of $237,000 in wages and other benefits such as Social Security and Medicare credits as well as health care coverage.

A recent Harvard Business School report conducted among employers that use Wellthy, a service that provides employees with personalized support to cope with logistical and administrative tasks of caregiving, found that companies offering caregiving support are likely to see a reduction in turnover of five to six percentage points.

"The first step was eliminating the stigma of not being able to talk about caregiving at work."

"Reducing employee turnover rates by just 1.7% is where a caregiving benefit like Wellthy starts to pay for itself," said Lindsay Jurist-Rosner, founder and CEO of Wellthy. "If offering a senior care benefit helps just five employees who are caregiving stay on the job, it will save the company $200,000 related to the costs of replacing that employee as well as win the loyalty of the caregiving employees."

An Ernst & Young survey found U.S. workplaces have four generations who are caregiving — including 42% of boomers, 48% of GenXers and 53% of millennials — while a Harvard report found 73% of U.S. workers are caregiving for a child, spouse, older parent or other loved one. Twenty-three percent of the workforce that is caregiving are caring for both older parents and younger children known as the "Sandwich Generation."

The number of employees who are caregivers will only grow as the peak-65 group — the youngest boomers representing 4.1 million Americans who are poised to turn 65 this year and every year through 2027 — will join the fast-growing populations of 70-, 80-, 90- and 100-year-olds.

Workplace demographics are not the only thing employers can no longer afford to ignore. A study found the U.S. will lose about $290 billion a year in GDP in 2030 and beyond — more than the annual revenue of Alphabet (parent company to Google, YouTube, Nest), the second-biggest U.S. technology company — if it fails to address the care economy's two biggest issues: the workplace shortage of professional home care workers and the workplace departure of employees who are family caregivers.

Caregivers Needed

This was the dilemma for Karen Yingling, who was recently honored by Carewell as "Caregiver of the Year." Yingling, a millennial living in Duncansville, Pennsylvania, was a fulltime home health worker who was raising five children while also caring for a father with lung cancer and a mother with dementia.

"I was in a situation where caregiving was 24/7 for me — professionally with my home health clients and then with my parents and children when I got home," said Yingling. "After I lost my dad, I knew my only option was to leave my job, even though my clients were like family, to care full-time for my mom as her dementia progressed."


Senior Care Is a Key Benefit Today

A recent 2024 workplace benefits survey among 620 U.S.-based HR and business leaders, as well as 1,000 benefits-eligible employees, showed senior care support was a leading benefit request from employees. In the company's 2023 survey, the desire for senior care benefits outpaced childcare for the first time since the survey began in 2020.

"Our survey also found one in five employees have left a job because their employer didn't provide family care benefits."

That aligns with U.S. Census Bureau statistics showing that by 2034, for the first time in U.S. history, we will have more parents to care for than children. A recent workplace equity trends report says caregivers are the fastest growing employee group with many companies hosting internal employee resource group (ERG) focused on caregiving — whether for a child or for an older parent.

"Last year we had 43% of employers who prioritized senior care benefits, in this year's survey it increased to 50%," according to Ajith Segaram, head of global account management for's Care for Business division which provides a suite of caregiving services to employers including Best Buy, P&G and Trip Advisor.

Most Companies Don't Look

"Our survey also found one in five employees have left a job because their employer didn't provide family care benefits and 21% would leave one employer for another if they had access to senior care support."

One of Wellthy's clients, Hilton, who globally employs more than 168,000 "team members," many of them hourly and shift workers, was recently honored as No. 1 on the 2023 list of World's Best Workplaces. What contributed to Hilton's top ranking was its Care for All caregiving initiative that includes tools and resources to support the mental wellness and caregiving needs of team members launched in 2022.

Yet, despite the awareness, the need and the companies and organizations driving innovation, only 12% of employers currently track their caregiving employees' needs versus benefits and the 2019 Harvard study found more than half of companies do not track their organization's caregiving demographics nor conduct a yearly caregiving audit. In addition, a 2021 survey found almost half of caregivers said their workplace supervisors are not aware of their caregiving responsibilities outside of work.

Helping Employees in Need

Olsen shares that the RCI Innovationl Lab seeks to become a best practices case study to show how one group of employers, located in the same geographic region of the U.S. and sharing similar labor supply and ecosystem challenges, can make significant differences in the lives of employees who are caregiving.

She also feels another benefit of the Innovation Lab's collaborative efforts was a discussion about changing the language in the workplace so that employees see themselves at every phase along the caregiving journey, whether it is child care, spousal care, special needs care or elder care.

"We need to help caregivers struggling with caring for a loved one while maintaining their role at work," added Olsen. "We believe the Innovation Lab will help by giving us a roadmap to help caregivers and employers."

Photograph of Sherri Snelling
Sherri Snelling 
Sherri Snelling
 is a corporate gerontologist, speaker, and consultant in aging and caregiving. She is the author of “Me Time Monday – The Weekly Wellness Plan to Find Balance and Joy for a Busy Life” and host of the "Caregiving Club On Air" podcast.
 Read More
Next Avenue LogoMeeting the needs and unleashing the potential of older Americans through media
©2024 Next AvenuePrivacy PolicyTerms of Use
A nonprofit journalism website produced by:
TPT Logo